That is how Tom Gregersen describes his 35-year career as the senior curator and cultural director at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Since 1977, Gregersen has seen the evolution of the Morikami from one humble building to the lavish, first-rate museum it is today. This year, the Japanese culture enthusiast is retiring from the museum and is expressing his final farewell through—what else?—an art exhibit.
Before creating a vision for the Morikami Museum, Gregersen had a heart for Japanese culture.
“When I was in high school, I dated a foreign exchange student from Japan. … When I earned my undergraduate degree in anthropology, the girl and I got married,” he says. Soon after, Gregersen (below) went to Japan to teach English for three years, pursuing a graduate degree in Japanese studies from the University of Michigan before becoming an assistant curator for the Morikami.
Thirty-five years ago, the infant museum was not the place it is today. With its simple charm, the Yamato-Kan building was then the whole museum. Designed as a private residence allowing the free flow of air, the building was beautiful but by no means the comprehensive vision of Japanese culture Gregersen and his colleagues wished to create.
“Although it was an attractive building, we realized that in order to have a first-rate museum, we needed to have a better building,” he says. Once a new building was erected, Gregersen and his colleagues wanted to make use of the property’s near 200 acres of land. Seven years later, the building came to be what he calls “a new and responsive garden setting” and what is now considered one of the museum’s most unique aspects—the Japanese gardens.
To add to what was fast becoming a beacon of an authentic Japanese experience, Gregersen and his team wanted to incorporate an art exhibit that would showcase the daily lives of Japanese travelers. Drawing inspiration from art pieces donated or loaned to the museum, Gregersen kept exhibits fresh and inspirational. For his last exhibit, “The Curator’s Farewell Exhibition: Cool Stuff from the Morikami Museum’s Collection,” he has amassed pieces he personally connects with from the museum’s collection, providing a first-person commentary on each artifact in the exhibit. This final farewell is the culmination of 35 years of passion, intrigue and delight in Japanese culture.
Although he's retiring, Gregersen plans to continue his relationship with the museum. He hopes to leave behind a legacy of giving visitors a true Japanese experience. “We want to do more than lip service; we want to provide authentic experiences that deal with Japanese culture," he says.
- "The Curator's Farewll Exhibit: Cool Stuff from the Morikami Museum's Collection" will be on display from February 12 through May 19.
- For more information, visit morikami.org.